By Cari Nierenberg
When it comes to dating, opposites often attract. A new study, which is available online in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, examines the phenomenon: The research looks at which negative qualities people are most willing to adopt for a potential romantic partner -- and where they draw the line.
"We were especially interested in how a romantic partner changed an individual to be something less than his or her best self," says study author Erica Slotter, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at Villanova University.
In one experiment, 72 heterosexual college students were first asked to rate themselves on a 7-point scale (0=not at all, 6=extremely) on 24 personality characteristics. Some qualties were considered positive, such as intelligence, kindness, artistic, while others were negative, such as clumsiness, being disorganized, selfishness, and dishonesty.
Students then viewed an online profile of someone of the opposite sex, which included a photo of a moderately attractive person as well as four personality traits describing him or her and four hobbies. Half were told the profile was for an online dating service, the rest were told it was for a non-romantic reason.
One of those personality traits was previously identified by the student during pretesting as "not describing themselves at all" while the other three were all self-identified positive qualities. After viewing the profile for one minute, each volunteer was asked how motivated they were to meet that individual.
The results showed that people were willing to take on some negative qualities from someone they were drawn to romantically, such as being disorganized, clumsy, irritable, or absentminded.
"The driving factor that determines whether someone will take on a partner's negative qualities is whether doing so will help the person get closer to the object of their desire," says Slotter. You can be clumsy but cute about it, so taking on this personality quirk doesn't make someone less desirable, she suggests.
But a second experiment found that while people may be willing to take on some moderately negative qualities in the name of love, they wouldn't do it for an extremely negative trait like selfishness.
"It is harder to put a positive spin on attributes like selfishness, being inconsiderate, or being unkind," Slotter points out.
For those men and women who pick up a few negative qualities that aren't so bad to woo a potential mate, they may keep up that behavior as long as the relationship stays together.
Based on her research, Slotter's advice to people who are single and looking is, "Try to avoid getting into and staying in relationships that alter you in ways you don't like," she suggests.
Since her study showed that people aren't really aware of how relationships change the ways they think about themselves, "This might be easier said than done," she admits.